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MIT developing $10 LiDAR sensors 1000x faster than current systems

Scientists at MIT’s Photonic Microystems Group are developing a LiDAR-on-a-chip system that is 1000 times faster than current systems and could be mass-produced at a very low cost.

Currently, commercially available high-end LiDAR systems cost thousands of dollars, which can limit their application, said scientists Christopher V. Poulton and Michael R. Watts in a blog post.  This is an issue for applications such as autonomous vehicles and robotics, which heavily depend on LiDAR. Therefore, MIT scientists are attempting to develop a LiDAR system that is small, fast and cheap to mass produce in commercial CMOS foundries.

Features of the LiDAR-on-a-chip include:

  • 5mm x 6mm silicon photonic chip; steerable transmitting and receiving phased arrays and on-chip germanium photodetectors
  • Laser beam steering range of 51 degrees
  • Non mechanical beam steering 1000 times faster than current systems
  • Object detection up to 2 metres; 10 metre range expected within a year
  • No moving parts
  • Chips produced on 300mm wafers, making potential production cost $10 per unit at production volumes of millions per year

According to the scientists, this system would allow multiple inexpensive LiDAR modules to be placed around a car or a robot. They could even be placed in the fingers of a robot to see what it is grasping.

“These developments have the potential to dramatically alter the landscape of LiDAR systems by changing how the devices operate and opening up the technology to numerous new applications, some of which have not even been thought of today,” said the scientists in their blog post.

They expect a commercial version of the product to be available in a few years.

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